Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sci-fi: the speed of light problem

Sci-fi can vary from almost fantasy with lasers instead of magic to being very realistic indeed. However, the speed of light does pose a problem.

Essentially, travelling that fast is reckoned impossible because it's the maximum speed anything can travel. (And that’s disregarding the dilation of time, as described by Einstein and sung about by Brian May in ’39).

This matters because the galaxy is so widely spread out that travelling almost anywhere beyond the solar system requires a very fast system of travel. Voyager was launched in 1977, and only reached the edge of the solar system last year (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13704153).

So, there are a few options:

Ignore science: this is the simplest method of resolving the problem. Just use warp speed or hyperspace or whatever you want to call it, and don’t bother explaining how it works. The only potential problem is if you’re trying to make your sci-fi story as realistic (scientifically) as possible.

Alien technology: pretty similar to the above, but with a crucial difference. A system of gates (as used in the very enjoyable Stargate SG-1 series), for example, enables travel over huge distances but does not allow the human race to have a similar tech level in other areas. So, you get the travel options but can keep everything else more realistic and lower tech.

Don’t go that far: keeping the human race confined to the solar system, and perhaps one or two of the nearest stars reached by sleeper ships, can work perfectly well. Mining on other planets and moons (or the asteroid belt), wars over territory and so forth doesn’t really need a far flung empire.

The actual decision made doesn’t especially matter provided it doesn’t jar with the rest of the universe the writer’s created. Maximum realism of 27th century firearms coupled with a magic box with Light Speed Engine written on it would rather break immersion.

I tend not to read as much sci-fi as fantasy. The last books I read were Toby Frost’s excellent Space Captain Smith series. This is probably because I prefer history to science, and find the general fantasy worlds (medieval England, Rome, Byzantium, Middle-Earth etc) more to my taste. That said, I think I might try hunting down some new sci-fi.

Thaddeus

Friday, 24 February 2012

Slightly light blogging

I’ve been working hard (well, working) on redrafting the old book I’ll be submitting to Angry Robot. In fact, I’ve not read anything except for a few pages of Gibbon for quite a while. So, I’ve not really had time to think of fantastically exciting things of which to blog.

Anyway, I’ve almost finished the text stuff, and then there’s just (ha) the synopsis and cover letter to do, I think.

I should be done with the donkey work of the submission in the next few days, and hopefully I’ll have some more stuff to read and maybe even interesting things to blog then.

Thaddeus

PS I’m never sure whether or not this sort of thing comes across as taking the piss. Writing ‘I have no time to write anything’ is a bit like turning up for work, proclaiming I’m too ill to work, and then leaving.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Dragon Age 3 musings

Whilst I really like RPGs, there haven’t been that many I’ve either bought or wanted to buy recently. Final Fantasy seems to have decided maximum linearity is what people want, and I’m somewhat loathe to join even a good series (Mass Effect) halfway through, because the first game wasn’t released for the PS3.

That leaves the Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age.

I loved Origins, despite its flaws (notably freezing, although, as per Skyrim, this can be greatly reduced by turning off auto-save). The cast of characters were strong, their little interactions were enjoyable, the Warden’s relationship with each of them could develop in differing ways and I liked the combat. Dragon Age’s lore and world are also big plus points for me. The various nations of Tevinter, Orlais, Antiva and so on sound fascinating, and the Qunari make a nice addition to the classic troika of men, elves and dwarves.

However, Dragon Age 2 was a missed opportunity. The Qunari broke tradition and actually worked better with some retconning, but the party members and segmented plot didn’t hang together as well as in Origins. Worst of all, the game was clearly rushed, forcing the makers to copy and paste dungeons repeatedly.

Others have been less charitable than me, and rate the game as poor or mediocre.

So, what do we know of Dragon Age 3? Not much, but that in itself is a good thing. I think I’m right in saying that if it had been released as quickly as 2 then it would already be out by now. I’m hoping this means the team behind it will be given the time necessary to do justice to Origins and improve on 2.

The game will be influenced by Skyrim’s open world approach, according to Bioware’s CEO Ray Muzyka. This would mark a huge, and welcome, departure from DA2, which occurred in one city, and Origins, which had a wider geographical range but still operated in discrete locations.

It also seems that the game will take place over a much wider area than Origins, which occurred in the somewhat English Ferelden. So, we might get to visit multiple countries, and I hope we get to see Par Vollen and Tevinter, amongst other places.

Then there’s the party. Individual members of DA2 were fine, I liked Isabela and most of the others (except Anders, the miserable bugger) but they didn’t really seem to be a team. In Origins the party was excellent and the strong driving force of the Archdemon added a sense of purpose and unity. It’s likely that the two significant characters we see at the end of DA2 will be back, and I certainly hope they join the party. It’d also be nice to get a female Qunari on board. I think a Mabari could work, but it would need to be more developed than the one that featured in Origins.

In terms of plot, we know the bare bones already. Chantry falling to bits, mages and templars at war and it’s highly probably the protagonist will be tasked with unifying the chantry once more, or at least ending the war. As long as the execution is fine, it should work well.

I don’t buy that many games, but when I do I like to play them almost to death (I’m still playing Skyrim) and I hope that DA3 can cut out the freezing and return to a more Origins style of storytelling.

Thaddeus

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Does the ratings system actually work?

The use of a ratings system whereby readers can offer reviews and give a headline rating for a book is widely used, and a really useful way of sorting wheat from chaff and getting a quick idea of how good a book is.

Or is it?

I remember being mildly amused that the excellent book Wild Swans, a personal history of three generations of Chinese women in the wider context of the Cultural Revolution, got almost entirely 5 or 1 star ratings. People who hated it considered it to be a tale of falsehood for political reasons.

This is less likely to happen with fantasy, but because there are sometimes religious or political allegories (my personal favourite being Narnia, where Jesus stars as a talking magic lion) this could occur.

I never review a book here if I don’t finish it. The reason is simply that a book can start brilliantly and nosedive, or start shakily but become fantastic (The Lies of Locke Lamora is excellent but the start is a little slow). Sometimes reviewers don’t actually review the whole book, but only the start.

There’s also the occasional person who is clearly mad as a bicycle, and finds something incredibly strange or insignificant to get cross about. Happily, this doesn’t happen often.

A more fantasy-specific problem is that there are a huge number of subgenres. If someone buys a book expecting Abercrombie-style grim realism and find it’s more sword and sorcery they might give it a lot rating, even if it’s an excellent sword and sorcery yarn. That’s more a case of the buyer not doing a little research beforehand (maybe downloading a sample if possible), expecting butter, getting cheese and complaining because it’s impossible to spread.

The real problem is one of taste. No two people have quite the same view. I know a chap who shares my enjoyment of Mr. Abercrombie’s books, but I was staggered when he revealed he thought Mr. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was tedious.

I think there’s also a trend bias. Right now plucky farmhands are out, gritty woe is in. So, this means it’s probably easier to get a better set of reviews of you write like Mr. Abercrombie and less so if you have a more old-fashioned black and white view of morality. This would also reflect the approach that agents/publishers often take when selecting and rejecting potential books and authors.

The ability to download samples (or read them online) is a real boon, as a prospective reader can get a feel for an author or book without forking out only to discover a dud.

I think reviews work pretty well as a guide, but they should be taken for what they are: a collection of subjective opinions which may or may not tally with your own view. In fantasy, where there’s huge variance in terms of magic prevalence, grittiness, modern or archaic politics and dialogue and so on it’s well worth reading a few reviews and finding out whether people believe the writer is a bit feeble, or whether they dislike the book because they wanted dragons and witches and ended up with political intrigue.

Thaddeus

Thursday, 16 February 2012

New authors and books

Rejoice, for Joe Abercrombie has taken enough of a break from playing Skyrim to crack on with his next book (stand-alone, as were Best Served Cold and The Heroes), entitled A Red Country. My exhaustive research [I checked his blog] suggest that a certain digitally deficient fellow might feature, and Cosca’s returning. The setting is a bit of a wilderness, the outskirts of the Old Empire and Styria, if memory serves.

It’s pencilled in for the 27th of September.

Earlier this year I read Douglas Hulick’s Among Thieves, and liked it quite a lot. His second Tales of the Kin book (Sworn in Steel) is due out on the 13th of September. Not all the Tales he writes will feature Drothe as the protagonist, but he does star in Sworn in Steel. I hope we see Bronze Degan again, but I have a sneaking suspicion he won’t be in this book.

I quite like trying out new authors, and there are a few I keep meaning to get around to reading. (Now that I come to think of it I’ve still got The Complete Works of Shakespeare to read as well). One of the best things about the Kindle is the ability to download a sample and get a feel for a book and author before buying.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is his first novel, and is highly rated. Rothfuss is someone a lot of people know about, but for some reason (as with Peter V. Brett’s The Painted Man) I’ve never, yet, bought his stuff. Both of these books/authors are on my ‘to read’ list.

I was browsing Amazon and came across Geist, by Philippa Ballantine. I must admit I’d never heard of her, but the book sounds interesting. Going by the understandably vague summary, it sounds like it has religious undertones and undead/spirits involved.

Theft of Swords, by Michael J Sullivan, is another book I might look at. The series title (Riyria Revelations) sounds like a tongue-twister, and the first entry is actually a pair of stories: The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha. Hadrian and Royce seem to be dual protagonists that embark upon some light-hearted adventures.

David Chandler’s Ancient Blades Trilogy seems promising. As with Ballantine, a new name for me, and although the first book’s rating is somewhat middling the latter two are both highly rated. Judging by the reviews it sounds like sword and sorcery, and less grim than is often the case nowadays. I don’t like reading books that are all the same, though, so I may well give this a try.

And, of course, there’s the Game of Thrones DVD coming out in early March. Those who saw the series when it broadcast have little but praise for it, and I’m rather looking forward to its arrival.

Thaddeus

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The hardest part of writing

Being, or trying to become, an author involves more work than might be imagined. For a start, you need an idea for a plot. If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi you also need to decide whether you’re going to place the plot in a roughly real world (perhaps in a historical or futuristic version) or a wholly fictional one. The latter gives more freedom, but also entails more work.

Then there’s the first draft. I actually don’t find this bit too tricky. Writer’s block doesn’t afflict me too often, and writing chapter-by-chapter with a day off between finishing one and starting another keeps up a decent pace without it becoming a grind.

However, the numerous redrafts are a different matter. I’m better at these than I was, but they still take a long time. As well as correcting basic grammatical and spelling errors other matters that need addressing include continuity, getting the pace right, making sure that enough time (but not too much) is spent on building the world and immersing the reader in it, and so on. Usually I have to add new bits (continuity’s my worst problem, and I often have to expand scenes or write new ones so that the plot hangs together better), or occasionally delete or reduce others.

Redrafting, for me, takes much longer than the first draft, and is far more tedious.

What happens after getting the text sorted varies according to whether you’re approaching agents/publishers, self-publishing or if you’ve got a deal with a publisher.

In the first instance, you’ll need to put together a cover letter, write a synopsis (from the Ancient Greek meaning ‘The torture of a new writer by a wicked agent and/or publisher’) and format the first X chapters (usually three). If you’re doing this, pay attention to the agent/publisher’s guidelines. They often want much the same (one page synopsis, brief cover later, first three chapters double-spaced) but if they don’t and you send something clearly wrong it’s a great way to get instantly rejected (and 99% of submissions are rejected. It’s like asking Olivia Wilde out, but with a slightly less exciting payoff if you succeed).

Then you will have to wait. Quite possibly a long time (months). And they may not reply at all (this irritates me. Even a standard rejection letter [and if you’re posting the submission an SAE will usually be required so it costs them almost nothing] at least lets you know to cross that name off the list). If you do succeed nabbing an agent then this is a great asset for approaching a publisher, as the very fact you have an agent means your submission gets taken more seriously (and some publishers only accept submissions from authors with agents, although there are occasionally Angry Robot-style exceptions). If you get a publisher then it’s game on and the first publication awaits.

Self-publishing means more control, but it’s not total, and the legwork must be done yourself. The Smashwords website is an excellent facility for such authors. Doing or hiring someone to do the cover art should be done at the first opportunity, as there can be a long wait for a reply and then for the art itself (I’m presently waiting for a response for the Bane of Souls cover). The formatting of the book also has to be done by the author, and whilst small errors are forgivable a big one can be pretty embarrassing. Last, but very much not least, the price must be set. These tend to be significantly lower than for established authors, typically ranging from under £1 to £3. This is quite a tricky decision, actually.

Lastly, we have the author-with-a-publisher. Whilst they do have that warm, fuzzy feeling of having either been published or about to be, they do have deadlines and may well have media commitments (conventions, book signings, interviews etc), so it’s not all fun and games. That said, it’s obviously the best position to be in.

So, what is the hardest part of writing?

The waiting. Whether for an agent or publisher, or anything else. The lack of control and the inability to make the decision arrive faster (especially after months or years of putting together a book) is a strange and often prolonged pause which is quite uncomfortable. Agents and publishers can have enormous workloads, and they can only work so fast, but from a writer’s perspective the weeks or months of waiting is torture.

Thaddeus

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The similarities of Charlemagne and Attila the Hun

I’m about halfway through the fifth volume of Edward Gibbon’s splendid (if bloody enormous) The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and was suddenly struck by certain similarities between the heroic Charlemagne and the villainous Attila.

Charlemagne is widely regarded as a splendid fellow, and he certainly enjoyed great success. His empire (he was crowned Emperor of the West on Christmas Day 800AD) covered France, Germany, Italy and some of Spain (roughly 2/3 of the old Western Empire). He did not manage to eject the Saracens from Spain, but instead preferred to conquer much of Germany.

Charlemagne enjoyed a healthy inheritance of royalty and military might, as his father and grandfather had both been skilled military leaders as well. However, after him the Carlovingian line (which took over from the Merovingians) faltered and then failed quite quickly. The empire was split, and the powerful domains were not reunited again.

Attila’s generally seen as wicked, because he spent much of his time menacing the Roman Empire, as barbarians of the 5th century did rather a lot. He built up an absolutely massive army, comprised greatly of allied tribes who either freely offered manpower as a sign of allegiance or had been forced into so doing.

The defeat of the Huns was actually slightly reminiscent of Antigonus Monopthalmus, the Diadochus whose predominance of power in the 4th century BC encouraged his rival Diadochi (Lysimachus, Cassander and Seleucus) to combine their forces to try and bring him down. The Visigoths, who had control of Gaul, joined armies with Aetius (a Roman general) and managed to defeat the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. Attila died two years later (possibly due to drinking too much), and his great domains and military forces consumed themselves as his sons battled for control amongst themselves.

Both men were skilled military leaders who accrued great power, but after their deaths their legacies did not last long. Charlemagne split his territory amongst his sons, and though Attila had intended one son to succeed him (a more sensible policy) this did not occur. A state that is synonymous with a single leader cannot be stable, especially if it’s subsequently split into multiple states amongst succeeding brothers. Even the mightiest of empires can quickly disintegrate without sound foundations (Alexander’s unified empire fractured almost the moment he died).

On a longer scale, we see the same thing happen with Rome. During its Republican period soldiers were loyal to the state, and a soldier was synonymous with a citizen. After the Marian reforms and then the shift to an empire, soldiers became loyal to generals and emperors, which led to a great deal of infighting. There were times this stopped (the Flavian dynasty and the Golden Age from Nerva to Marcus Aurelius) but Rome was never able to regain her old form. Success depended on having a good emperor and good fortune, but the empire was hooked on regicide.

Thaddeus

Friday, 10 February 2012

Review: Samurai, the Japanese Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual, by Stephen Turnbull

The fourth instalment of the fantastic Unofficial Manuals series follows those for being a Legionary, Knight and Gladiator.

Samurai and Japanese history generally is an area of which I’m mostly ignorant, and what little I do know comes from playing Kessen III for the PS2 and reading Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa. By happy coincidence, both basically cover the period (late 16th and early 17th century) with which the book is predominantly concerned.

Turnbull does a great job of mixing humour with interesting facts and snippets from Japanese history. The wit often includes a very British sense of humour, mingled with amusing references to the magnificent capacity for flowery language the samurai had.

As with previous entries in the series, Samurai focuses entirely upon one position and concisely describes the various aspects of that role. So, we learn that samurai are born rather than made (with certain Hideyoshi-shaped exceptions), that discipline in numerous areas are the mark of a good samurai, and that going to certain death is nothing to be worried about, provided your hair is sufficiently perfumed.

Our guide to being a samurai is a fictional chamberlain in the court of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s (the chap who established the long-lived Tokugawa Shogunate) successor. As well as detailing the role of a samurai and how to excel as such, the book also briefly covers the geography of Japan and furnishes the reader with numerous helpful, and often amusing, historical examples what to do and what not to do.

In addition to this there are a number of references to the recent arrival of Europeans (Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English) to Japan and the horrors (gunpowder, pox and Christianity) they brought with them.

It’s a great little book, very easy to read and crammed with interesting bits of information. The further reading in the back includes quite a bit by the author himself, however some time ago I did try finding a biography of Oda Nobunaga in English and couldn’t, so there’s probably a relatively limited selection in English.

I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wanted a light-hearted but informative look at samurai.

Thaddeus

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Review: 300

Saw the film a few days ago. It’s pretty recent, and is a stylised take on the epic stand by 300 Spartans at Thermopylae.

Anyone looking for a historically accurate film shouldn’t watch it, but if you just want to suspend intelligent thought for an hour or two and enjoy some gore it should appeal.

It’s similar to the Spartacus TV series, although probably with less gore, far less sex (but still some) and a penchant for the freakish and repulsive lacking in the TV programme (which is better).

Leonidas is the protagonist, and is portrayed as a two-dimensional, uncompromising and heroic chap, entirely accepting of his highly probable death. Xerxes, the antagonist, is a strange character in the film, replete with golden body piercings and other jewellery (I was reminded somewhat of a Goa’uld from Stargate), aspirations of godhood and great height.

The Greeks are painted as mostly heroic (the Spartan 300 dominate airtime) with the odd greedy traitor. The Persians come across as bloodthirsty conquerors led by a man of questionable grooming habits. The path around the Hot Gates is revealed to Xerxes by a malformed Spartan denied the right to fight. Even allowing for artistic licence it seems odd that he would even have been allowed to live, given the practice of exposure (killing infants whose appearance is displeasing). Furthermore, the weird Persian camp featured mutilated and scarred women whose sole purpose seemed to be to disgust. Surely the Great King would just have a large number of lovely ladies attending him and tempting the deformed traitor?

There’s quite a bit of gore splashed about, and the film takes a rather comic book approach to the violence. The drum of saving freedom (ironic, coming as it does from a king of the hegemonic Spartan city-state) is beaten to within an inch of its life.

I’d say it’s passable, but hardly a classic. There was more scope for exploring the irony of Sparta saving democracy and Athens, their ancient enemy, and the long-term contests between the Hellenistic world and Persia. However, in terms of what it sets out to do (be a couple of hours of bloody entertainment) it’s ok.

Thaddeus

Monday, 6 February 2012

One race to rule them all?

Although fantasy and sci-fi get to be very creative with species/civilisations humans still dominate casts, unsurprisingly.

It’s not universally the case, but very often there are other intelligent or semi-intelligent races that can act as rivals (Klingons), friends (Vulcans) or enemies (the Romulans). Of course, there’s also the concept of a fodder race, whose primary purpose is to allow morally acceptable massacres (things like orcs, goblins, or the Borg).

I’ve been going through an older story, as I mentioned on the 29th, and it’s interesting to see just how different in terms of writing style and general approach it is to Bane of Souls.

Bane of Souls goes down the route of differing species of human. In it the differences are largely superficial (the Felarians have slightly darker skin than the Dennish, and the Kuhrisch are significantly taller and paler than both). However, I have been doing some background work for Altmortis and a trilogy which will see at least two additional races (possibly three) that have more substantial differences.

It’s unfortunate, probably, that in recorded history we’ve never really lived alongside another human species. The Neanderthals died long before written history began, and whilst I think a hobbit-sized race of humans lived with some homo sapiens on a remote island until just a few centuries ago there isn’t much record of them either.

In ye olde booke, there’s one vaguely-but-not-quite human species that makes a brief appearance, but the two main non-human races are more radically different. One is an entirely warrior race (tough, furry, big teeth and a tail that can choke a man to death) and the other’s a kind of giant rat-mole hybrid. The latter are much more human in their outlook, whereas the brutes have a more rigid, savage approach to the world.

Another aspect of humanity in fantasy is whether or not it should be portrayed as a decadent or benevolent force. There are two broad traditions, of civilising a barbaric world or of ruining a primordial garden of plenty (this applies both to fantasy and to history/literature, with Ovid bemoaning the declining Ages of Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron).

Given the modern style, to which I subscribe, of a grey approach to morality it’s entirely possible to marry the two concepts. Indeed, that’s probably what happens in real life. We have almost constant technological advances, but success breeds wealth which leads to luxury and decadence (Europe today could be compared, in that regard, to the latter days of the Western Roman Empire, only there’s no Aurelian or Gothic Claudius around).

Because fantasy has so much scope for creativity and inventiveness sometimes it needs characters to be cynical and ‘normal’ in order to establish an air of realism. That’s one of the reasons I like Sand dan Glokta more than Aragorn. An embittered cripple is just more credible than someone so damned heroic.

Thaddeus

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Review: The Secret History, by Procopius

I bought the Penguin edition, with an introduction by Peter Sarris and translation by GA Williamson.

Procopius was an official chronicler during a particularly important period in Byzantine history. Emperor Justinian the Great and his forceful wife Theodora were on the thrones, and the great general Belisarius reconquered Libya and Italy (these conquests would become the Exarchates, the former of which furnished the empire with the slayer and successor of Phocas, namely Heraclius).

However, whilst writing rather obsequious official histories Procopius was also working on The Secret History, to be published after his death. It’s an unremitting litany of poison, contempt and loathing, heaped mostly upon Justinian, Theodora and (to a lesser extent) Belisarius.

Belisarius is portrayed as a weak-willed na├»ve man entirely under the thumb of what could politely be described as a frisky wife with a substantial carnal appetite. There are certain elements of praise for Belisarius’ military ability but he is mostly criticised for a weak and pitiful character.

For Justinian, described as a demon (once literally), and his wife there is no such limited counterpoint to their flaws. The emperor is a creature of absolute vice, abandoning his friends willy-nilly, succumbing to a wife unfit for her position and taxing the Byzantines into poverty whilst hurling their gold at barbarians who did not even ask for it.

Justinian is not painted as an idiot incapable of rule, but as an intelligent man who wilfully sought to weaken the empire, damage its people and accrue wealth (which was then uniformly squandered) by laying false charges against the prosperous and confiscating their property.

The very constancy of the attacks upon Justinian’s character (leaving aside the references to him as a demonic creature) damage Procopius’ own case, as they make him appear entirely one-sided. However, the very fact that such passionate hatred (remembering that the author risked his life writing the book) was engendered in him suggests either a vendetta or a grievous abuse of mankind generally of which Procopius happened to be one victim (or witness).

The Secret History is short, just over 120 pages, and covers a time (the 6th century AD) not especially well-known by people not into Byzantine history. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who hadn’t already read a more general history of the time (and thus had a feel for the kind of state the world and Byzantium was in). I thought it reasonably enjoyable, but no more than that.

Thaddeus

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Fall, Rise and Defeat of Chosroes

During the period that saw Maurice, Phocas and Heraclius reigning, there were by chance, even more dramatic events happening in the Persian Empire.

Chosroes II was brought to power whilst his father yet lived. In a manner not overflowing with filial regard he then had his father executed. However, he was subsequently chased from the throne by the rebellion of a talented general (it was his own fault, as he abused the chap and made him dress as a woman in front of the troops), and fled to the old enemy of Byzantium (then ruled over by Maurice).

In return for some regained territory, the Byzantines agreed to help Chosroes get his empire back. The aid of the Byzantine Empire enabled him to defeat his enemies in battle (592 AD) and he once more ruled over Persia. A period of peace naturally followed, as he was understandably grateful to the Byzantines.

Maurice was overthrown by the vicious thug Phocas in 602 AD, and as the emperor’s life expired so did the gratitude Chosroes felt towards Byzantium. The armies of Persia overran Byzantine territory and reclaimed and plundered a good deal of it. The important province of Egypt fell to the Persian armies, and Byzantium, led by a cruel and divisive man and also suffering invasions from barbarians in Europe, could do little to stop Persia’s purple patch.

Phocas’ reign was not very long, and he was slain and succeeded by the talented Heraclius, who sailed from the Exarchate of Carthage (which had never acknowledged Phocas’ authority) to avenge Maurice’s death. Under the leadership of Heraclius, who reigned for over three decades, the Byzantine armies took the field against Persia, and scored notable successes.

Chosroes II fled from Heraclius, and was murdered in his own palace. As events unfolded, he turned out to be the last powerful Persian ruler, as the empire was torn apart by dissension and then fell to the zealous victories of the newly born religion of Islam.

In a period of a few decades Chosroes had gone from being ruler of Persia, to a refugee begging for help, then became a grateful ally to Maurice, a threat to Byzantium and then the victim of Heraclius’ military talents. Persia had waxed brightly before waning rapidly, and the empire that had been founded by Cyrus, destroyed by Alexander and reborn from the ashes of Parthia was no more.

Thaddeus